Patty Carroll and The Art Industry Collection
June 18 – August 7, 2010
According to Patty Carroll, the lawn is an arena that must be tamed and subdued. It holds an anonymity of presence that fulfils a fantasy of perfection, but Carroll also refers to the manicured lawns and bushes of middle America as a sinister screen of concealment. In her photographs these Chicago-area lawns and homes have been made more poetic by removing any hint of colour, their grey scale made into carbon and high contrast mysteries, the shadows become even deeper and more mysterious, the houses more geometric and sharp-edged. An intense curiosity arises, the viewer imagining the darker corners inside these tombs, the unknowable lurking behind their dark shadowy ghostliness. These are the suburbs of North America, the neighbourhoods that give rise to Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, John Wayne Gacey, Richard Speck and other silent neighbours with unspeakable urges.
In the same era in which most of these homes where built there was a burning revolution simmering which we can now look back upon and regard through a completely different filter - the ever-shifting arena of sexual exchange and expression. Mid-century North America was a playing field upon which sexual wars were fought and increasing freedoms in the pursuit of personal pleasure were being gained. In the images presented in Suburbanxxx we are seeing a specific genre of images that are representative of these shifting sexualized mores, most of which were photographed in homes of this same era. These are photographs that, in their time, were as covert and controlled as any other illicit substance. Their subjects were numerous and all equally misunderstood in their time: swingers, 'sluts', nudists, jaybirds, confirmed bachelors, spinsters of any age sharing a home, never mind those who might share a bed. The nudes and models in these vernacular and professional photographs from the Art Industry archive are a cross-article of people who allowed themselves to be photographed. As such they are but a small glimpse into representation of sexual concerns in tumultuous times; a time of cold war and hot fantasy and the incipient breakthrough into legalizing and commodifying the porn industry in America. They are from a cusp, a time when women were still, for the most part, uninflated with plastics and silicone, a time before Hustler introduced the manicured perfection of women and men who splayed themselves for the camera.
The majority of the images being shown in this exhibition represent the mid 1960's, a time of sly glances and coy but knowing playfulness between the photographer and the subjects who are seducing the camera for the benefit of glances from their many worshippers, some for their lovers, others for furtive peeking from timid pubescents, and some who simply posed for open leering from those voyeurs who had already been initiated and knew the lay of the land of their own explicit fetishes and fantasies. We can look back on these comparatively innocent times with longing, knowing from our current vantage point that the now-massive porn complex has forever changed the playing field of American sex into a sterile astro-turfed global common ground, one that belies the chaos and frenzy of true human sexual interaction in all of its possibilities. The lawns might be clipped and the bushes trimmed to perfection, but the roots of desire are tangled and deep, dark and mysterious, shrouded in secrets and filled with an imperfect beauty.
- P Elaine Sharpe – April 2010